CROSSING BORDERS
by Cheryl Spear and elana levy

Editor's Note: Because elana feels strongly about not capitalizing her name or "i" we are not forcing our style upon her.

elana: Both Cheryl and i are finding it hard to write this article. We've both tried writing something on our own: Cheryl in a narrative style and elana in a third person voice. Neither style gets at the real meaning of crossing borders or how we ourselves have maneuvered across boundaries. i haven't wanted to opportunistically use my friendships and lifelong commitments to prove points. Cheryl has made assumptions that within her circle most everyone practices border crossings, inclusions and therefore what we have learned in our lives doesn't necessarily require repeating, though that may sound naive and arrogant. It's also that i come from a place of firmly believing that we already have the knowledge within us of how to cross borders. It's not really about someone else having to give us new information. What it IS about is making choices. In every life choice we make we are also deciding how important crossing borders is to us individually. Reading an article can't do that, though perhaps what we can do is point our finger at the moon.
There is no substitute for “time in” and “showing up.” You have to “show up” and “show up” again and then “show up,” and that’s not enough.

Cheryl: Yet, when I remember back to the place where I made the choice to move beyond prescribed barriers of race, gender and ability, I was actually pretty young and those choices became adult practices. As a child around the age of eight I made two secret "crossings" in my mind. The first of these crossings involved the physical. At that time, I was prohibited to move around freely outside our 13th floor apartment as my siblings were allowed. Although I was born with significant disabilities, I had a strong resolve to do what I wished. Looking out across the Manhattan skyline one evening, I promised myself to move as far as I could beyond the apartment. And, that I did! Traveling to the Midwest and West Coast to live among people who were quite different from the people I knew back home helped to expand my crossings of boundaries and borders.

The second of these crossings also happened around the age of eight. During this time, I remained home to receive my elementary education until I was allowed to attend regular sixth grade classes. While at home with my mom day in and day out, I witnessed her struggles to make a living for the family, many times doing this alone. Watching her make ends meet, I promised to take care of her better than any man could. And, this I have attempted to do as I challenged, as a young woman, sexisms, racisms, ableisms, homophobia and classisms.

elana: i feel that my location historically predisposed me to aligning with those seen as "other." First, i was born in New York City only two years after my parents had escaped from the Nazi regime in Germany. And secondly, i lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in my twenties, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the North. And so i was nourished and thrust towards "getting" it, and joined up in the march of the times against oppression and injustice. As i write and listen to my earlier words i recognize that i didn't feel it as making a "choice" to join. Yet, also as i write this, i know that in fact i did internally make a choice, then in the 1960s and many times since. Though explaining how or why doesn't come through words.

Cheryl: Interestingly, "getting" oppression did not come to me until quite late in my political development. Partially this is so because, like my mom, I wanted to love anybody who would accept me. The awareness of oppression came through connecting with those people who cared enough to tell truths about America's inequalities. It was groups of women who fought on the frontlines for lesbian rights, immigration rights and reproductive rights. It was their example that helped to teach me about crossing political borders for each other. One of many lessons that stayed with me is how undocumented women taught me that women as a collective group are all struggling to have "citizenship" within this country. In other words, whether one was indigenous or first generation born within the US, her citizenship in too many important ways was always up for question.

When I am real honest with myself, I know too that I have seen oppressions happen right in front of me. Yet, I witnessed unfairnesses, particularly against my mom, and had no way to fight against them. It was not until I met up with warrior women and a couple of warrior men that I learned I could bend absurd rules and make choices to force justice.

elana: It's hard for me to talk about specific events of crossing boundaries. The glass seems cracked. Activities i am at times lauded for are simply what keep me alive. Perhaps more honest than talking about "choosing" to cross boundaries is to repeat what i say to myself as i drive to the barbed wire surrounding the concrete walls, surrounded by wire, surrounded by taller thicker walls: "how privileged i am to have as friends, teachers and compañera/os the ones who i visit, and then have the nerve to leave behind the walls and wire as i walk out through the doors." How little i understand after all these years of visits, yet how much more i know than i could ever have imagined or known to wish for.

Cheryl: Crossings of any kind are never easy. Barriers, language, lifestyle, politics, economics, social location, ability threaten relationships between and among those who are different from each other. Yet what I have come to understand about connecting with difference is that what matters most is the human spirit. What I am thinking about are all the many reasons I could say "no" to widening my social and political circle. Rather, including difference for me is about survival.

The task of boundary and border crossing is awkward and awesome all at the same time. Even as I tell myself this truth, even as I feel I am capable of the task of connecting with fellow humans there is another knowing that alerts me to the fact that too many connections will never be made.

elana: In conversing on how to write this article, Cheryl and i have talked about what Cheryl calls: "time in." There is no substitute. Once again, i don't know quite how to get it across in this fast-paced, instantaneous, expectative culture we inhabit. There is no way around, below or above it. You have to "show up" and "show up" again and then "show up," and that's not enough. Your tears show up, your rage, your stupidity, your self-centeredness and your brilliance, it all shows up. i guess what i want to say is that in fact you/i do decide. i do openly and inside make a lifelong commitment which i can never turn aside.

Cheryl: Indeed, there is no substitute for "time in" and "showing up." However these two conditions for crossing borders might mean different things for different people. That is to say, some of us are able to make or create alliances across communities of difference on a regular consistent and deliberate basis because we have resources to do so. Others of us may have the likely possibility of holding a space within us, within our caring tone of voice, within our hearts, for the other who we cannot physically touch.

What I think we mean by "having time in" and "showing up" is creating the time, the space and the energy to ask who is missing from our circles. And more important to ask: how do we find the way to include them. Certainly for us this cannot be a one-time effort. Rather, crossings are lifetime practices which we bring into our circles of difference. In these circles we can be taught and teach how to respect, listen, accept, negotiate, laugh, muse, cry, criticize and critique. Certainly, in the absence of diversity/difference or the recognition of these human dimensions I/we will not and cannot extend warmth, compassion and material resources nor talk with one another.

Cheryl and elana: We're sitting here at a dining room table listening to the midnight owl as we pensively taste the thoughts and mold them into words which become black marks on white bark. We will forever be ruminating and musing over what it means for us individually as well as collectively to consciously widen our current circles.

It's hard to leave the words alone, as they never quite say what's most deeply felt. For sure this conversation begun, will continue beyond the awkwardly written words on this page.